Philippines' Marcos seeks agreements in China amid tensions

FILE - Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. arrives to attend arrives to attend the APEC Leader's Informal Dialogue with Guests during the APEC summit in Bangkok, Thailand, on Nov. 18, 2022. The Philippines says President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. hopes to sign a number of agreements during a visit to Beijing next week that comes amid ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea. (Rungroj Yongrit/Pool Photo via AP, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines says President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. hopes to sign a number of agreements during a visit to Beijing next week that comes amid ongoing territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

A statement from the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday said a number of projects were under discussion, including in agriculture, renewable energy, nickel processing, tourism and bridge construction.

Marcos is due to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping during his Jan. 3-5 visit at the head of a large business delegation. China accounts for 20% of the Philippines' foreign trade and is also a major source of foreign direct investment.

Despite those economic ties, the sides have repeatedly feuded over China’s claims to islands and waters in the strategically key South China Sea, referred to by Manila as the West Philippine Sea.

During the visit, the sides plan to sign an agreement to boost communication between diplomats at various levels to “avoid miscalculations” over such issues, Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Affairs Nathaniel Imperial was quoted as saying in the statement.

China says it owns virtually the entire waterway, despite a 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated Beijing’s vast territorial claims on historical grounds in the South China Sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also claim all or parts of the sea.

China has rejected the 2016 decision by an arbitration tribunal set up in The Hague under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea after the Philippine government complained about China’s increasingly aggressive actions.

Those include China's turning seven disputed reefs into missile-protected islands in the disputed waters. Philippines treaty partner the U.S. says the developed islands, including three with military-grade runways, now resemble forward military bases.

Most recently, the Philippines sought an explanation from China after a Filipino military commander reported that the Chinese coast guard forcibly seized Chinese rocket debris in the possession of Filipino navy personnel in the South China Sea last month.

China denied its coast guard forcibly seized the debris from the Filipino sailors. Marcos said he would seek further clarification when he visits Beijing.